Malaysia is a fascinating country with many faces. It is multi-ethnic and multi-cultural, and its attractions vary from the iconic Petronas Towers in bustling Kuala Lumpur to perfect, palm-fringed sandy beaches and dense jungles with orangutans and tigers.
There are several impressive national parks. Expeditions range from those where you barely take your eyes off the hotel to those where you are completely immersed in the jungle for weeks with just your guide and yourself. To see a tiger or a wild elephant in its natural habitat, you may need to spend more than a few days in the wild, but you will have no trouble seeing smaller wildlife. Bako National Park is the oldest national park in Malaysia and one of the best places to see proboscis monkeys. The vast jungles of Taman Negara have become a popular destination for ecotourists, as has the remote but beautiful Gunung Mulu National Park, a World Heritage Site famous for its limestone karst formations, stone spires and huge caves. To escape the sultry tropics, do as the English do and drive up to the cool tea plantations of Cameron Highlands, the picturesque Tudor-style village on Fraser’s Hill or climb Mount Kinabalu in Sabah.
For many people, Malaysia brings to mind images of pristine beaches with great diving – and for good reason. Sipadan off the coast of Sabah and the beautiful Perhentian Islands are among the best (and most popular) places. The coasts in the less industrialised parts of the country are generally worth cruising for their natural beauty and relaxing coastal camping (villages). Follow the crowds to the postcard-perfect sandy beaches of the Langkawi Islands, where you can sip a cocktail on the beach and stay at one of the many resorts.
If you’re most interested in feeling the pulse of a city, don’t miss Kuala Lumpur’s crazy, quilted, ultra-modern skyline, including the famous Petronas Twin Towers. Ipoh is a good choice if you like a slower-paced city that features elegant colonial-era buildings from around 100 years ago, and Malacca is for those who want to trace Malaysia’s colonial and imperial history back a few hundred years further. Penang is known for its great food and the relatively long-established and institutionalised Chinese and Indian communities that share the city with Malay and Thai communities. For a completely different experience, head to Kota Bharu to discover a unique conservative Islamic regional culture with Thai influences just a few kilometres away, or visit the diverse cities of East Malaysia, such as Kuching and Kota Kinabalu. Especially if you are travelling with children, visit one of the country’s excellent zoos, such as Taiping Zoo, Zoo Negara in Kuala Lumpur and Malacca Zoo.